Cooking Light asserts that using water instead of oil requires “practice and diligence” but it’s possible to produce fluffy popcorn. In their method, popcorn kernels are placed in a heavy, lidded pot and covered with water (submerged, not floating). The pot is set over medium-high heat and, when the water evaporates, another 1/4 cup is added. Once the kernels start popping, the heat is reduced, the pan is almost constantly shaken, and the kernels are cooked until almost all have popped.
The Flaming Vegan shares a similar method but warns that the process takes longer than oil and requires some trial and error to get it right. Wide Open Eats states that, once you’ve mastered the process, water-popped popcorn rivals the movie theater version of the snack. But don’t jump ship just yet.
The Kitchn doesn’t share the same sentiment. After several attempts and tweaks to the cooking method, using water to pop popcorn produced kernels that were scorched and unpopped. Interestingly, Medical News Today declares that you don’t need water (save for a few drops) or oil, just a pan with a tight-fitting lid. Amy’s Healthy Baking adds that a nonstick pot helps ensure that the kernels don’t stick to the bottom of the pan before they pop.
If you’re a fan of oil-popped popcorn, The Cleveland Clinic suggests using healthy oils like walnut, avocado, and extra virgin olive to add nutrients and control hunger.